Akron Empire is so excited to welcome back guest blogger J Hudson. J has been a regular contributor to Akron Empire since he wrote about The Fourth Annual Crafty Mart last November. J is a poet, short story writer, event organizer and, in a more recent venture, marraige officiant.
Fast Molasses: Contemporary Troubadours
By J Hudson
Fast Molasses’ core members are Christopher Smith and Shawn Wee. Christopher is Fast and Shawn is Molasses in the band’s name. According to Smith, the two are “polar opposites” and thus the oxymoronic name, Fast Molasses. Shawn Wee, who most people call Swee, is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica. Christopher plays many instruments too: banjo, piano, guitar and mandolin, and he also designs the logo and packaging for their albums. The two met while in high school and bonded over their shared love of roots music and cotemporary musicians like M Ward and Magnolia Electric Company. They frequently perform live and are mainstays of the Northeast Ohio club and festival scene. Over the years, Fast Molasses has had a rotating caste of backing musicians. Their live performances are lo-fi but high energy with standup bass, fiddle, trumpet, washboards, jugs and if available piano. According to Smith, “Fast Molasses isn't really a band. It's a partnership in which art is created; be that music, printmaking, theatrics. We bring others on to the team to share their on input.”
Christopher says that the three albums highlight different aspects of the music they’ve written but also represent “a view of the evolution of both American music and a creative process represented by the rum making process.” Rum starts with sugarcane that is usually imported from another country, like the music they love came from African and European immigrant roots. Then the sugarcane is refined into molasses, that molasses is brought to the still and made into rum, which is stored in a barrel and drank until it’s empty and you’ve reached the proverbial bottom of the barrel.
Swee says From the Sugarcane highlights Fast Molasses’ songs from a folk tradition. They were recorded in an old, chicken coop converted to a cabin on a land preserve near Hocking Hills in southern Ohio. The Athens’ Ohio group Hunnabee & the Sandy Tar Boys served as their backing band during the recording. The album’s producer, Spencer Martin says that the goal of From the Sugarcane was,” to organically capture the authenticity that defines (Fast Molasses’) overall aesthetic.” In an a phone and email interview, Martin said, “By going completely off the grid and isolating ourselves in a middle-of-the-woods cabin for four days, we were able to create the focus to inspire the performances and allow for a spatial, sonic character that would lend itself to the songs.”
Americana is a broad term and the nine songs on the album vary greatly in style and tempo. Some are lullabies, others troubadour songs from the plains, there are back country drinking songs and depression era laments. The songs share an unhurried acoustic sound and are simultaneously laissez-faire and laissez les bon temps rouler, a hard feel to pull off. On first listen, I thought some had to be covers of traditional tunes, but despite the old-time sound, all of the songs are originals written and sung by Wee and Smith. Despite this vintage sound, Fast Molasses engenders the songs with a contemporary feel that keeps them from being derivative. The album begins with ambient sound from the cabin and Martin uses crickets and train whistles as segues and plaintive punctuation to the tunes. You can even hear a gulp or two before one song and I have a feeling that more than a little drinking went on during the recording. After listening through to From the Sugar Cane, I can’t wait to hear the follow up albums that will complete the set.
Now that the album is done, Christopher and Swee plan to leave Akron and travel throughout the country. Christopher is going to Portland, Oregon for the fall and New Orleans for the winter. Swee works the sugar beet harvest on the northern plains in October and then hitchhikes south to New Orleans where he busks and is the house harmonica player at a music hall in the French Quarter. The duo plans to return to Akron in the spring and begin recording To the Still, which will highlight their songs using electric instruments. At the Bottom of the Barrel will be recorded after that in New Orleans. That LP will employ New Orleans backing musicians and will feature rags, music in the tradition of 1800s and vaudeville music.
If you want to hear Fast Molasses’ music, check out their Soundcloud page:
They are on Facebook here.
To order the cd, From the Sugarcane email, firstname.lastname@example.org